More than $27 million leaves the Rhinelander area each year when people make purchases outside the area that can be found right here. Over the last few months, the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Rhinelander Inc. have teamed up to try to put a stop to that.
The program, “I Buy Local,” is designed to decrease that amount of “financial drain” and increase the sales and traffic seen in local businesses. The multi-faceted campaign will include advertising, marketing, promotions and business development tools for all participating businesses.
“I think this campaign is about breathing new life into our business community,” said Lara Reed, the Executive Director of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. “The goal is to help build a stronger local community and create more pride in what it means to live in Rhinelander.”
“I Buy Local” officially kicks off on July 2 with an advertising campaign, followed up with a float in the Rhinelander July 4 Parade. There is also a free customer promotion available at all participating I Buy Local businesses.
“Just look for the ‘I Buy Local’ container and throw your business card in,” said Reed. “At the end of the month, we’ll draw a name, and that person will receive $100 in ‘Buy Local Bucks’ to spend at our participating businesses.”
In addition to marketing and promotion, education is a key component of the campaign. Reed said that goes two ways-educating business owners on effective ways to market their business, and educating consumers on what exactly is available at our area businesses.”
“I always use the example of someone looking to buy a hot tub,” said Reed. “People may think something like that may be limited in Rhinelander, but you can go right down to Forest TV & Appliance and buy one. This is about letting people know that they don’t have to necessarily leave this community to find what they’re looking for.”
Reed pointed out that another key component of the plan urges the community’s businesses to work together and educate each other about what each business has to offer. She pointed out that Rhinelander is considered a regional retail hub, and rarely do people make a shopping day trip to Rhinelander and only shop at the city’s large department, or “big box” retailers.
“We get people coming into the chamber office all the time that just got done doing their shopping at Kohl’s or Walmart, and are looking for other things to do,” said Reed. “Our local businesses shouldn’t look at each other as competition, but rather as partners that can help each other. The larger stores are going to draw people to town. We want to help the smaller businesses keep them here all day. It’s a huge opportunity.”
In addition to advertising opportunities, longer range plans include business growth and development tools and also marketing and website resources.
“If a business wants to get on the web, we’re going to help them,” said Reed. “We’re going to bring people in with the skills to help these businesses expand.”
The overall goal of “I Buy Local” is to increase the sales, improve the businesses’ bottom line and help educate customers on why to purchase goods and services in local stores and businesses. Reed said the expectations, namely decreasing that $27 million leakage by 10 percent and increasing local business traffic by 10 percent in the first year, are lofty but not impossible.
“We’ve set some very high expectations for this because we wanted it to be a challenge,” said Reed. “The biggest key I think is going to be getting the participating businesses to share their thoughts and their numbers.”
Reed said the campaign will raise awareness for what supporting local businesses can do for the entire community, and the chamber and DRI will make “I Buy Local” a part of area activities-hence the float in the parade.
“Personally, I think this is exactly the type of program that groups that want to help businesses, such as the chamber and DRI, should embrace,” said Reed. “Working on this program has been so fulfilling, especially for me still being relatively new to this community. It’s rewarding to see so many people excited about something we’re working on, and so willing to give their thoughts on it. That open dialogue is a key to making programs like this successful.”
Reed said that she doesn’t foresee the program ending anytime soon, either.
“As far as I’m concerned, this program doesn’t have an end date,” said Reed. “It would be unfair to try it for a year and then say we’re done. This is something that can continue to grow and evolve.”
For more information on “I Buy Local”, or to become a part of it, call Reed at the chamber at (715) 365-7464.